Gini Dietrich

News Releases: Five Ways to Avoid Google Penalties

By: Gini Dietrich | October 15, 2013 | 

News Releases- Five Ways to Avoid Google PenaltiesBy Gini Dietrich

When I was in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, not only did I get to spend time with my family, I spoke to three Vistage groups.

(As a side note: Getting paid to fly home and speak is kind of the cat’s meow.)

During one of the group meetings, we got to talking about search engine optimization, from a content perspective.

One attendee said his organization has really good search engine results from creating – and distributing – news releases online twice each week.

I’d be a terrible poker player because I’m pretty sure I cringed when he said that, which led to a larger conversation about the role of SEO in content development.

A couple of months ago, we talked in this very place about the recent changes at Google, as they relate to news releases. In fact, ZDNET called for the death of PR firms because of it.

As a quick reminder, in early August, Google announced using links in news releases to increase one’s search engine results violates their Webmaster Guidelines and they will begin to penalize the sites that practice this method.

Write News Releases without Penalty

This means any news release that has keywords listed multiple times, keywords as anchor text, or links not listed as “nofollow” will be penalized.

But what does this mean to you…and to my new friend who has a strategy to distribute online news releases twice each week?

  1. No keyword stuffing. An old SEO trick, keyword stuffing meant a web page was full of the same words or phrases over and over again. This told the search engines to look at that page as an authority on the topic. During the past several years, though, Google has penalized web pages that practice this method. Now they’ve turned their eyes to news releases and will penalize you for doing the same. An example of keyword stuffing is something like the following with the keywords in italics. “Many organizations offer wellness programs to help employees reduce healthcare costs. When employees practice good wellness, including exercise and healthy nutrition, the programs offered from insurance companies are less expensive. If you want a healthy team, consider a wellness program.”
  2. No duplicate content. Most news releases are distributed on the wire, which means it’s possible to have the same release – with the same, exact copy – posted in multiple locations across the web. This could mean the release is on your own website, as well as on many news websites. This is now against the rules. What that means for organizations such as BusinessWire and PR Newswire is they likely will create “nofollow” links in your releases and link to an original article so the search engines don’t consider it duplicate content.
  3. Ban the links. When you create web copy, the general rule is you want to have one external link for every 100 words. This rule stands for web copy, but not for news releases. If your release has lots of links and follows that same rule, your site can be penalized. It’s best to create your release with “nofollow” links so the search engines don’t view it as gaming the system.
  4. “Nofollow” links. A “nofollow” tag is something you add in the HTML code when you create the link in your release. What this does is tell the search engines not to visit the site you’ve linked to, but it provides the journalists who receive the release more information about your organization and its products or services. When you link to a site in your release, make sure to add “rel=”nofollow”” at the end of the hyperlink. For example, <a href=”” title=”Spin Sucks” rel=”nofollow”>Visit Spin Sucks/a>.
  5. Anchor text. Anchor text describes the copy you use that you hyperlink to something else. For instance, in my example above, if I linked to a page on Spin Sucks on the wellness program text, Google would see that as spam because nothing we do here is about healthcare, insurance, or benefits. The general rule is to use anchor text that isn’t a keyword and to make sure you always follow the “nofollow” link advice above.

Google hasn’t killed the news release – or PR firms, for that matter. Their goal is to bring the very best experience when you search on the web. Your goal, of course, is to generate more awareness.

If media relations is done well, you’ll worry less about what to put in your news release and more about the relationships your firm or team are building with journalists on your behalf.

Photo credit:

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • As owners of a press release distribution company, we monitor the success of publishing news releases online closely. Even with Google’s recent changes, we’ve still seen a lot of SEO benefits from publishing. The key — as always — is to publish quality content and not abuse the SEO benefits that releases offer. We’ve been counseling clients to use natural phrasing in their anchor text links. Also, if a platform offers 3-4 anchor text links, you don’t have to use ALL of them either. 🙂 Keep it natural and be sure to link to places other than your website — like your Google+ profile, your blog, and other published content.

    Google’s changes impacted the links. Many of the larger wires and distribution platforms, as you noted, made their anchor text links no-follow to avoid penalties. I know we did! These links, however, were just a small part of the SEO benefits to publishing a press release online. Having a keyword in your title and/or summary is still very powerful for getting your news to rank well in Google. Again — this goes back to our old argument of title writing with SEO vs a quality hook. Hopefully you or your writer can creatively take care of both! 
    Again, should publishing online news releases be your *only* SEO strategy? Absolutely not. They are just a small part of your overall visibility campaign. But do they still work? Yep, they sure do!

    • TaraGeissinger I hope this post didn’t make it sound like they don’t still work. My point was that, as PR pros, we have to be very careful not to violate the terms of service that so many of us don’t pay attention to. I’d hate for our clients to be penalized because we didn’t create nofollow links in our releases. That’d be really bad.

      • ginidietrich TaraGeissinger It doesn’t make it sound like they don’t work at all! And you are right, so many people can get penalized by simply unintentionally being ‘spammy’ with their content and publishing. I guess I just wanted to be sure that people recognize that while the strategy behind linking has changed, the overall idea of publishing your news online can still be helpful for your visibility.

        • TaraGeissinger ginidietrich Good stuff. Really, the whole problem started when people stopped sending releases to the “press” and announcing “news.” 
          Those folks account talking to journos and using the wire / news release channel to announce actual, real things and not just “5 Tips from a Guns ‘n Roses Fan on How to Eat More Cotton Candy On Tuesdays” will be fineee.

        • JoeCardillo TaraGeissinger How do you eat more cotton candy on Tuesdays?

        • ginidietrich JoeCardillo TaraGeissinger Normally I don’t provide this kind of interactive, shareable content that encourages people to engage with your product or service…
           But secret is to auto-play GnR bpx set at 5 am.

    • TaraGeissinger Good info, Tara!

  • The image on this post cracked me up. 🙂 
    For those out there who are HTML averse (cough, Yvette, cough), you can designate links “nofollow” in the WordPress visual editor via any number of available plugins.

    • jasonkonopinski It’s a Google spider!

      • ginidietrich jasonkonopinski I’m not HTML averse!! I’m just not familiar with it at this point, but I’ll get there – one step at a time Jason!!

  • CynexisMedia

    Luckily for us, the person who writes and/or edits all our press releases has limited SEO experience, but strong writing/editing skills. Keyword stuffing–what’s that? We’re now being careful to add the “no follow” tag to all links, though. Thanks for the article! Definitely sharing with others.

  • Google has got you PR folks on the run 🙂 But seriously, Google wants it done their way, which is usually a pretty good way.

    • Matt_Cerms There are SO MANY changes going on at Google right now. It’s kind of crazy and hard to keep up with.

      • ginidietrich Matt_Cerms On the bright side, the constant stream of changes are like a Full Employee Act for SEO experts.

        • RobBiesenbach ginidietrich Matt_Cerms It sometimes feels that way! It’s like a bad horror flick. Just when you think it’s over… come more changes! LOL

        • TaraGeissinger Thanks for getting the joke, even though I should have typed “Full EmployMENT Act.” Derrr …

  • Nicely explained. Clear enough for a relative SEO dummy like me to get it!

    • RobBiesenbach I looked for you at Fernando’s last night.

      • ginidietrich Ha-ha! I was wiped out last night, but I do want to do this!

  • susancellura

    Quality, not quantity! 🙂 I continue with the good fight to educate those I work with that it is a news release, not an ad, and writing/hyperlinking like crazy is going to hurt us. Some good elbow grease goes a long way.

    • susancellura You can always point them to the Webmaster Tools guidelines to show, if you do that, the organization will be hurt.

  • Awesome article!  Couldn’t agree more.  The press release is most certainly not dead — those who adapt + change are the ones who survive.

    • ereleases I love all these changes. While it’s hard to keep up with, it sure makes the job fun!

      • ginidietrich ereleases I agree – and it helps legitimate marketers continue to get noticed. With every change Google makes, the people and businesses who’ve been focused on quality from the beginning continue to get rewarded. 🙂

  • rustyspeidel

    How does Google know it’s a news release and not some other content?

    • rustyspeidel Usually by the format they’re created in

      • rustyspeidel

        ginidietrich rustyspeidel I guess my question is why the love affair with that format? It’s an obvious red-flag that screams self-promotion. Write the same content using a post!! Discuss / rebut.

        • rustyspeidel What we’d really like to see is not only the format to change, but the way it’s distributed. Someone asked me today if we have an example of a release we’ve distributed online that is done this way. We don’t because we don’t distribute online. Ever. The format is dictated by journalists (particularly in investor relations) so it can’t just arbitrarily change.

  • rustyspeidel

    If it looks like you’re trying too hard, you probably are.

  • Great article Gini! I know the rel=”nofollow” rue also applies to blogger outreach! Any type of unnatural linking should have that tag nowadays, just to make sure Google stays happy 🙂

  • This was a well-written “hears what it means” ginidietrich . I’d point anyone that asked me the question to this post. (Am I out of the doghouse yet? #teamkelly)

  • I learn something new every single day. 🙂

    • belllindsay I’m glad you’re back!

      • ginidietrich belllindsay You mean she’s not fired? But isn’t Lindsay fired daily?

        • DebraCaplick ginidietrich Every. Single. Day. :

  • Really excellent and informative, Gini. You mention that you don’t distribute online. Ever. Could you talk more about that?

    • Word Ninja I’m a big proponent of using a release as a tool to get journalists more information when they ask for it. Lots of PR pros write a release, distribute it on the wire, email it to a bunch of people, and think their job is done. We will post releases on our client’s websites, but we don’t mass distribute that way.

      • ginidietrich Thank you. This is affirming since I have never mass distributed either. I’ve seen ads from companies looking for freelance writers who will write a release and mass distribute it, but I’ve never worked like that, preferring to contact individual reporters and editors, write the release more like a news story, and cultivate an ongoing relationship. I’ve found this to be most effective in sharing our organization’s news and hopefully providing the newspapers with good copy. But I appreciate all the tips you shared today.

  • This explains all those sites I see in my alerts with the exact same or almost the same copy I asked you about like and that seem to have no purpose except to game SEO.

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  • Kevin_Raposo

    Great article Gina! However, this should be common knowledge by now.

  • Kevin_Raposo  You would think so, but it’s unfortunately not. I think those who do know it are in the minority. We are asked by conference attendees where we speak and prospects all the time.

    (P.S. It’s Gini – my parents thought spelling it that way was clever instead of just spelling it Ginny).

  • Kevin_Raposo

    ginidietrich Kevin_Raposo  Agreed, that’s understandable. Coming from an SEO background, I”m hip to the game.

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